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sonnel and institutions to help ¬nance the wars of the monarchy. Finally, we
conclude by reviewing how and why the royal authorities implemented the
most important and extortionate measure to appropriate church revenues
and property in the years 1804“1808: these included the disentailment
of capital, land, and buildings under religious control in order to provide
money for the royal debt of¬ce, known as the Consolidaci´n de vales reales in
Spain. It should be stressed that funds collected in New Spain by the Crown
on this account re¬‚ected the fact that the Mexican church was then the rich-
est in the American hemisphere, although it was rapidly impoverished by
these measures.8

Ecclesiastical Revenues and the Royal Treasury in New Spain
A recent and important literature has analyzed the role of ecclesiastical
¬nance in Mexico during the eighteenth century, underscoring the impor-
tance of the church in the colonial economy and, particularly, in the func-
tioning of its complex, credit system.9 These studies demonstrate the

7 A study that stresses this problematic aspect of the relationship between church and government
is Oscar Maz´n, Entre dos majestades. El obispo y la iglesia de Michoac´ n ante las reformas borb´nicas,
± a o
1758“1772 (Zamora, Mich.: El Colegio de Michoac´ n, 1987).
8 It is hard to make an accurate appraisal of the wealth of the church in the Americas, but there are
revealing data in documents presented by D. Brading, Una iglesia asediada, Appendix 1: according
to this source, the income of the church in New Spain was roughly equivalent to 40% of the total
revenues of the Spanish American church as a whole.
9 The most signi¬cant overview on ecclesiastical credit for the private sector in New Spain toward
the end of the colonial regime is G. von Wobeser, El cr´dito eclesi´ stico en Nueva Espa˜ a and the
e a n
most comprehensive regional quantitative analysis is Francisco Cervantes, “El cr´ dito eclesi´ stico en
e a
Puebla, 1800“1856,” Ph.D. thesis, El Colegio de M´ xico, 1993. Other relevant works are Arnold
Bauer, “The Church in the Economy of Spanish America. Censos and Dep´ sitos in the 18th and
19th Centuries,” Hispanic American Historical Review, 63, 4 (1983), 707“733; Linda Greenow, Credit
and Socioeconomic Change in Colonial Mexico: Loans and Mortgages in Guadalajara, 1720“1820 (Boulder,
Colo.: Westview, 1983); Asunci´ n Lavrin, “El capital eclesi´ stico y las elites sociales en Nueva Espana
o a
a ¬nes del siglo XVIII,” in Enrique Florescano, ed., Or´genes y desarrollo de la burgues´a en Am´rica Latina,
± ± e
Royal Church and the Finances of the Viceroyalty 123

signi¬cant role of a varied number of religious institutions in providing
working and investment capital and loans to landowners, merchants, and
miners in all regions of New Spain. On the other hand, the contribution of
the church to the ¬scal and ¬nancial machinery of the royal administration
in Bourbon Mexico and to the military campaigns of the Spanish crown
has attracted less attention.10 In the pages following, we contend that an
analysis of the complex and varied contributions of the church to the royal
treasury is extremely useful to understand how this in¬‚uential, privileged
corporation shared power with the government in the colonial regime.
One feature that clearly illustrates this symbiosis is the well-known
existence of a double taxation system by government and church, for “ just as
in any other Catholic society of the time “ the Spanish American church
had its own ¬scal system which ran parallel to the civil ¬scal structure.11
In Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal, tithes had long constituted the main
source of annual income for both the ecclesiastical hierarchy and parish
priests, although great revenues were also obtained from renting urban
and rural properties. Generally speaking, these funds served to ¬nance the
church and, in principle, could not be claimed by the Crown. However, in
the case of Spanish America, the situation was different because a share of
funds collected by the church had to be transferred to the royal coffers. This
was a practice that dated back to the sixteenth century, but it was reinforced

1700“1955 (Mexico: Nueva Imagen, 1985), pp. 33“72; Tom´ s Calvo, Guadalajara y su regi´n en el
a o
siglo XVII: poblaci´n y econom´a (Guadalajara: CEMCA/Ayuntamiento de Guadalajara, 1992), Chapter
o ±
XI; Mar´a Isabel S´ nchez Maldonado, Diezmos y cr´dito eclesi´ stico: el diezmatorio de Ac´ mbaro, 1724“
± a e a a
1771 (Zamora, Mich.: El Colegio de Michoac´ n, 1994); and essays in Pilar Mart´nez L´ pez-Cano,
a ± o
ed., Iglesia, estado y econom´a. See additional bibliography in C. Marichal, “La historiograf´a econ´ mica
± ± o
reciente,” 161“180.
10 Some aspects of the ecclesiastical role in royal ¬nances are explicitly discussed in G. Valle Pav´ n “Las
corporaciones religiosas en los empr´ stitos negociados por el Consulado de M´ xico a ¬nes del siglo
e e
xviii,” in Pilar Mart´nez L´ pez-Cano, ed., Iglesia, estado y econom´a, pp. 225“240 and Carlos Marichal,
± o ±
“La Iglesia y la crisis ¬nanciera del virreinato, 1780“1808; apuntes sobre un tema viejo y nuevo,” in
Relaciones. Estudios de Historia y Sociedad, 10, 40 (1989), 103“130. Data on ¬nancial relations between
the church and the civil government are also found in D. Brading, Una iglesia asediada, passim. The
basic documents on the Consolidaci´n de Vales Reales are presented by M. Sugawara, La deuda p´ blica
o u
and M. Sugawara, “Antecedentes coloniales.” A. Lavrin, “Execution of the Laws,” offers an insightful
11 Literature on the ecclesiastical ¬scal system is copious but scattered, with few comparative studies.
For an overview on tithe administration in the Spain of the eighteenth century, see Gonzalo Anes,
Las crisis agrarias en la Espa˜ a moderna, El antiguo r´gimen: los Borbones (Madrid: Alianza/Alfaguara,
n e
1975). For the case of France in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, see the dissertation by
Claud Michaud, “Les Receveurs G´ n´ raux du Clerg´ de France aux XVIe et XVIe si` cles,” Ph.D.
ee e e
thesis, Universit´ de Par´s I, 1987. For New Spain, see Fredrick Schwaller, Origins of Church Wealth
e ±
in Mexico. Eclesiastical Revenues and Church Finances, 1523“1600 (Albuquerque: University of New
Mexico Press, 1985); Ar´stides Medina Rubio, La iglesia y la producci´n agr´cola en Puebla, 1540“1795
± o ±
(Mexico: El Colegio de M´ xico, 1979); and essays in Arnold Bauer, ed., La iglesia en la econom´a de
e ±
Am´rica Latina, siglos xvi al xix (Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Antropolog´a e Historia, 1986).
e ±
124 Bankruptcy of Empire

in the last quarter of the eighteenth century as a result of Bourbon reforms
and the increasing expenses resulting from interimperial wars.
The ¬scal system of the Spanish American church was based on a complex
set of revenues which included collection of tithes, sale of papal bulls, a
percentage of earnings of chaplaincies and religious foundations, as well
as parish income charged by priests for masses and other liturgical services
such as baptisms, marriages, and last rites.12 For the royal treasuries in
Mexico, the appropriation of a percentage of tithes collected by the church
was customary, in particular through the ¬scal department known as novenos
reales. This ¬scal branch was based on the transfer from the ecclesiastical
coffers to government treasuries of a ninth (11 percent) of tithes collected by
the clergy in the viceroyalty.13 Originally “ in the sixteenth century “ the
object of novenos was to ¬nance the construction of cathedrals in America,
but later they began to be channeled directly to the royal administration.
(See Figure 4.1.) As recent research suggests, control and accounting of tithe
collection was considerably improved in the eighteenth century by more
professional ecclesiastical administrators. As a result, royal functionaries
everywhere began to take special notice of the increasing weight of the
tithe contributions.14
Broad sectors of colonial society had to pay tithes, which were levied
on the agricultural/livestock production of every hacienda and ranch, but
also, on occasions, on the agricultural commodities produced by Indian
populations.15 An evaluation of the impact of these ecclesiastical taxes on

12 For abundant information, see D. Brading, La iglesia asediada, passim.
13 This ¬gure of 11% was equivalent to what the church called two novenos, based on a royal general
decree issued in 1541 and still in force in the eighteenth century. Borah describes that “according
to this regulation, half the total tithe collection should be divided into two equal parts, one for the
bishop and the other for the cathedral chapter. The other half should be divided into nine equal parts,
two of which were set aside for the king and should be collected and spent to his satisfaction. . . . ”
Woodrow Borah, “La recolecci´ n de diezmos en el obispado de Oaxaca,” in A. Bauer, ed., La iglesia
en la econom´a, p. 6. For similar studies on other regions of the Bourbonic Mexico, see M. I. S´ nchez
± a
Maldonado, Diezmos y cr´dito eclesi´ stico, p. 34 and Michael P. Costeloe, “La administraci´ n, recolecci´ n
e a o o
y distribuci´ n de los diezmos en el arzobispado de M´ xico, 1800“1860,” in A. Bauer, La iglesia en
o e
la econom´a, p. 121.
14 Bourbon government™s capacity to secure greater and steadier shares of tithes was dependent on the
increasing control that the clergy itself managed to implement in tithe collection, while leasing to
individual persons was eradicated as a secular practice. According to Costeloe: “The church expanded
the system of direct collection, whereas leased areas were increasingly reduced until the annulment
of the last one in 1782.” M. P. Costeloe, “La administraci´ n, recolecci´ n y distribuci´ n,” p. 102.
o o o
15 According to Borah: “in general terms, Indians were still paying tithes only on ˜cosas de Castilla,™
although the list had expanded from wheat, silk, and animals, in the sixteenth century, to include
every plant and animal from the Old World. Both Indians and Spaniards were forced to pay a 10
percent tithe on salt [ . . . ] they paid 5 percent on sugar [ . . . ] 4 percent on honey.” Small and
big cattle were levied differently for Indians and Spaniards. Woodrow Borah, “La recolecci´ n de o
diezmos,” p. 88.
Catholic Church government

Income from
papal bulls
Tithe offices
Treasuries of
New Spain
2/9 of tithes

Small rural

Additional 1/9 tithe *
1/9 of tithes**

Consolidation Funds collected
Fund offices**

Land Rents
Ex “ Jesuit
Flows of money

Figure 4.1. Transfers of Church Revenues to Royal Treasuries in New Spain (circa 1806).
* Vacantes were vacant religious positions.
Source: drawn by Carlos Marichal.
126 Bankruptcy of Empire

Table 4.1. Royal Treasury Income Derived from Religious Fiscal Branches, Mexicoa ,
1785“1799 (Annual Averages in Thousand Pesos)

Other Ecclesiastical Incomeb
Years Papal Bulls 2/9ths of Tithes Total
1785“1789 266 233 209 708
1792 224 207 212 643
1795“1799 302 222 163 687
a We have not included the ecclesiastical subsidies nor the ¬scal branch known as Temporalidades
because of imprecision in sources.
b This complementary income was from the categories of vacantes, mesadas, and media anatas,

which were transferred to the royal treasuries.
Sources: For data of 1785“1789, Fabian de Fonseca and Carlos de Urrutia, Historia general
de la Real Hacienda, vol. 3 (Mexico: Vicente G. Torres, 1845“1853), p. xxxix. For data of
1792, Archivo General de Indias (AGI), Audiencia de M´ xico, 2358. For data of 1795“1799,
Biblioteca Nacional (Mexico), ms. 1282.

each social group would require a ¬scal sociology of tithes “ a challenging
task that researchers should nonetheless consider worth undertaking in the
future.16 Only then shall the increasing pressure of a double taxation system
on New Spain™s society be fully understood.
By the end of the eighteenth century, certain operative aspects of the
double taxation system revealed the increasing economic subordination
of the ecclesiastical system to the civil system, which included not only
the transfer of novenos to government™s treasuries, but also revenues from
other sources, such as bulas, medias anatas, mesadas, and vacantes mayores y
menores.17 According to the overall ¬scal statistics for New Spain, the reales
novenos yielded the royal treasury an annual average income of 178,111
pesos in 1785“1789, 179,227 pesos in 1792, and 192,833 pesos in the
years between 1795 and 1799.18 (See Table 4.1.) These ¬gures represented
the sum total of tithes revenues transferred to the state by the archdiocese

16 There are several studies on tithe collection in different Mexican regions in the eighteenth cen-
tury, including A. Medina Rubio, La iglesia y la producci´n agr´cola; Claude Morin, Michoac´ n en
o ± a
la Nueva Espa˜ a del siglo XVIII: crecimiento y desigualdad en una econom´a colonial (Mexico: Fondo de
n ±
Cultura Econ´ mica, 1979). However, only M. I. S´ nchez Maldonado, Diezmos y cr´dito eclesi´ stico,
o a e a
applies a detailed sociological approach to analysis of the functioning of the complex ecclesiastical
17 One must be careful in considering each type of branch and tax: a useful source is F. Fonseca and C.
Urrutia, Historia General, a veritable dictionary of colonial state ¬nance. For example, in addition
to novenos there was a similar but separate ¬scal category called “ecclesiastical tithes” (diezmos
eclesi´ sticos); the purpose was to assist poor bishoprics and missions: funds from this branch began to
be directly transferred to the royal treasury toward the end of the eighteenth century. F. Fonseca and
C. Urrutia, Historia General, vol. 1, p. xxxiii.
18 Sources for noveno income are cited in Table 4.1. I am grateful to Guillermina del Valle Pav´ n for
help in ¬nding these documents.
Royal Church and the Finances of the Viceroyalty 127

of Mexico and the dioceses of Puebla, Valladolid, Guadalajara, and Oaxaca:
they constituted almost 20 percent of the nearly two million pesos collected
in tithes by the church in New Spain during those years for which there are
relatively reliable estimates.19
As imperial war expenses increased, the royal authorities decided to
restructure the branch of novenos in 1798 in order for the Crown to obtain
an even higher proportion of tithes. The decree of November 28, 1804
requested the church to pay the government an additional ninth part of tithe
revenues in order to contribute to cover rising government debt service in
the metropolis.20 As a result of this new measure, the income of the Mexico
City Treasury increased by almost 500,000 pesos annually in 1804“1808 “
a fact which indicates that almost 25 percent of tithe revenues collected in
all the dioceses of New Spain were being transferred to the Crown.21
But royal of¬cers were also attentive to other ecclesiastical income that


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